My alternative to New Year’s resolutions…

We are now at the start of a New Year and I would guess that many of you will already have made some New Year’s resolutions. I used to do the same and am saddened to admit that rarely, if ever, did I stick to them for the year – some didn’t even make it to the end of January as life took over. Now I don’t make resolutions as such: because I realised that what I was actually doing was setting myself up to fail. Every year that I made a commitment and then didn’t stick to it I was reinforcing a message that ‘failure’ was acceptable – not a belief that I now wish to encourage!

I don't agree with setting yourself up to fail!

I don’t agree with setting yourself up to fail!

So how do I approach the beginning of a new year? The answer: I spend some time thinking about what went really well for me in the current year and what the things are that went not so well and what could I learn from that. How might I have approached those things differently that would have given me a more valuable outcome? I then create a vision for how I would ideally like the coming year to pan out. For those of you reading this and who have completed the PLP you may remember doing the six months exercise – so this is a similar version. Having done this, I then put it somewhere where I can see it every day, making sure that I put it somewhere different on the first of every month so I continue to ‘see’ it and not have it become part of the furniture.

Having created this it now becomes fairly easy as I can ask myself pretty regularly some questions such as ‘how do I need to be for this to become a reality?’, ‘if I knew there is one thing I can choose to do today to enable me to move me closer to my vision what might it be?’ This unquestionably requires some commitment but I have not positioned it in a way that sets me up to fail – it sets me up for success as I don’t feel bad if a couple of weeks go by when ‘life has taken over’ as it surely does – I just realign myself once that busyness has passed.

Oh, and there is one other thing that I continue to do throughout the year as often as I can – I keep filling in my gratitude book! For me, this is the single most important thing that I do that helps keep my thinking on a great track. What you put your attention on expands and what you take your thinking away from withers and dies – so keeping my focus on the things that are going well in my life, no matter how small, definitely creates more good things happening. I even write down some things that I am grateful for that have not yet happened which appears to create even more of the joy and good things happening.

This is what works for me and I share it to give you an opportunity to perhaps enter the New Year with some fresh thinking about how you might approach it. So what might you do now if this makes sense to you and you have already made some resolutions that you are fearful you might not stick to? I suggest that you actively choose to dump them: stating that you realise they are no longer appropriate and you wish to align your thinking with total success!

May you each have a year filled with joy, fun and all that you can dream of for you and all your loved ones. Penny x

Merry Christmas from Penny

Christmas day is fast approaching and to say it has had a busy end to 2014 would be an understatement!! It’s been a year jam packed full of events and projects, including the marriage of my son James to his beautiful wife Anna, and some amazing trips to Houston and Kitzbuhel to work on some exciting and rewarding projects.Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 16.03.42

It’s been an exceptional year and I’ve met some wonderful people, made new friends, acquired some new clients and have been delighted to have delivered considerable amounts of work with some clients who remain so faithful to us over the years. Without our amazing trainers giving truly exceptional support this would not have been possible: so a huge thank you to each and every one of them. Also, a big and heartfelt thank you to Sherilyn – Founder of the Marketing Academy and a very special friend – who has had an exciting year herself; launching TMA in Australia, whilst also inviting me to accompany her on many of her trips, thus introducing me to some new clients.

2015 promises to be fantastic: starting with me running a Global top team programme closely followed by an Open Personal Leadership Programme in January (one that we have now had to extend our numbers on!) and then off to Australia with the Marketing Academy in February, as well as some other projects I really can’t wait to announce next year!

So, thank you all for making this year so fantastic and I hope you have a truly wonderful Christmas and much success, joy and love in 2015. Here’s to some more exciting times in the future – I raise a glass to you all, a very large one!

Love Pen xx

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A catch up with Penny

They SAY Autumn is a time to slow things down, ready for a winter of hibernation. Well, I think I must have lost the memo! This quarter has started off full of adventure, appointments, engagements and programmes with absolutely no signs of letting up!

Myself and Cam from The Marketing Academy - anchor away!

Myself and Cam from The Marketing Academy – anchor away!

Just over a fortnight ago, I was thrilled to be invited onto the Aurora cruise ship as a keynote speaker along with the fabulous Sherilyn Shackell from The Marketing Academy. It was a networking opportunity to meet some lovely people and listen to some excellent talks by inspirational speakers.  Two speakers stood out for me – one being Sherilyn. I was always enjoy hearing Sherilyn speak – she is fun, to the point and leaves a very clear message. On this occasion she was talking about taking responsibility for your own career and, as always, got great feedback.

The other speaker that I really enjoyed listening to was John Amaechi – retired basketball player, psychologist, owner of an OBE, awarded a medical degree as a doctor of science and overall very impressive person! My one regret is not getting a photograph with him: because standing at 6 feet 10 inches, well, it would have made quite the picture!!

The 3 day cruise was spent meeting many new people which I always enjoy, some of whom I have already met up with again, culminating in my speaking slot on the Friday evening, and our final day. The weather was interesting to say the very least as on the second day the people who were due to get off couldn’t and the speakers who were due to come on board couldn’t get there either – this included the band as well! Guernsey must have had an influx of speakers and musicians!

Jon Amaechi - a fantastic and very tall speaker

Jon Amaechi – a fantastic and very tall speaker..!

Richmond Events did a darn good job of coping with somewhat challenging experiences and it really seemed as though everyone enjoyed it and got a lot out of the experience. Being something that I had never done before there is always a degree of trepidation as to whether what you are to deliver – my subject obviously being personal leadership – will sink in especially when you are on at the very end. However, I got really great feedback with 3 people in the group coming up to me afterwards and saying ‘best talk of the cruise’! Made my trip very worthwhile – thank you Sherilyn and Richmond Events for inviting me – overall a truly brilliant experience.

Last week I ran the first two days of our very first PA/EA’s programme, for PA’s to managing directors and CEO’s. It’s brand new and was fully booked within hours of releasing the details: an exciting project that I really feel is one of the best programmes I have delivered – what a very special bunch of people they are. I am so looking forward to the third and final day in December. This week, from Sunday I am off to run a top team programme in Houston, closely followed by a speaking engagement in Kitzbuhel, a trip for meetings in Edinburgh (really good as I can make a trip of it and sneak in a day with my gorgeous eldest daughter), followed by a return to Houston! Whenever am I going to fit in the Christmas shopping?

Who was it said that they were going to retire!!

NEW RELEASE: The incredible tale of a Living Leader

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This Thursday we see the release on the second video in “The Tale of a Living Leader” series, the fascinating life story of Personal Leadership expert Penny Ferguson. For the first time, Penny let the cameras in to her home and opened up in a compelling interview with reporter Tony Silman.  This incredible four part story (released over the next month) takes us on her journey from the very beginning and follows the trials, tragedies and accomplishments she has endured on her journey to become one of the world’s most influential leadership experts, changing thousands of lives in the process. – Tune in here this Thursday for the second instalment of her amazing life story as she takes us back to where it all beganand tells us some stories about some of the events which have had the biggest impact on her life to date.

Don’t miss it!

Below are a few words from Penny herself, as she talks about her leadership journey.

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Looking back it is interesting to see how my leadership journey started. I guess it was through being the mother of 6, combined with observing my ex-husband delivering his management training that never seemed to last. It was a journey that, to this day, continues to be one of learning and fascination.

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My children were all very close together in age – they were born between my ages of 21 – 29 so not a big gap between any of them. As they were growing up I can honestly say that they were a complete joy – mischievous, loving and all very close to each other. As they became older one thing became alarmingly clear to me – when they were in trouble or wanted to know what to do, they invariably came to me for advice. This struck me as really not very helpful and gave me a pretty big wake-up call as I appeared to have done a great job of educating them not to think for themselves. Once I got into consultancy and into management training I began to realise that this pattern was true there. Outstanding managers were brilliant at inspiring people to follow them and ‘do it their way’ but less good at getting individuals to think for themselves.

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My journey began and I read, watched, listened and began this journey that still excites me. I see how, when we care for people, how easy it is to help in a way that all too often inadvertently disempowers the individual rather than giving them the opportunity to become stronger and more able. I am fully aware that, no matter how much I now speak of this, write books about it, run a leadership programme to teach this, I still have not removed the wish that is always there to help others by giving them advice! In reality telling them that they are incapable of doing it without me!

 

My journey has not been a particularly comfortable one and the repeating patterns that I kept creating, sheer lunacy – how easy it is to look back and judge oneself critically!   I became staggered at how little I truly understood responsibility which I now know to be one of the key foundation blocks for great leadership. I thought I, but the more I have learned over the last twenty years the more I know that my understanding was superficial, to put it politely.   I realised that my thinking was in a totally unhelpful place and my belief that I was a good communicator was flawed. Once I really got my head around the fact that Leadership was about these three key concepts – choosing how I think in each and every moment, understanding responsibility at a fundamentally different level, and recognising my own communication and the impact on others, I knew that I might just be able to develop myself into actually being a leader.

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Now, without any qualifications whatsoever, I have not only done that, I have designed a programme that over 35,000 people have attended, I have written a couple of books and co-authored several others, I have been asked to speak internationally – and – I never stop learning!

It is because of this that I, with the help of the fantastic team at ECP Video – am releasing my life story in four parts across four weeks, in the hope of inspiring others to embrace life and leadership. Please tune in this Thursday here to follow the second part of ‘The tale of a Living Leader: Penny Ferguson.’ And let me know what you think!’

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Click here to tune in each week for the next instalment, and don’t forget to check back to the blog for weekly recaps on each episode. Follow Penny on Twitter too – @pennyferguson1 and Facebook.

 

 

 

How to liberate your thoughts

How many times has your success been hindered by a very un-useful belief, or limiting assumption, about yourself? Limiting assumptions are something that we are all inclined to be guilty of.  They can limit our thinking around what we believe we are capable of and therefore our performance is less than it might perhaps be. How many times have you assumed you were incapable of doing something you wanted to do, without ever considering what might happen if you knew yourself to be capable of anything you set your mind to?

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Make the possibilities endless!

This topic is a subject I know a bit too well. As a result of my mother leaving when I was just a few months old and being packed off to boarding school by 7, I carried around the belief that I simply wasn’t good enough – an easy belief to develop when dealing with life’s hurdles, and a belief that stifled many thoughts and dreams for a long time. What would have really helped at this point would be somebody able to take the mental barrier away, to ask an incisive question and say: ‘If you knew that you are good enough, what would you do right now?’ So many possibilities would have sprung to mind, that I would have never thought of beforehand!

Of course, this is extremely unlikely to have changed my belief, but it would have allowed me to start thinking in an entirely different way. Allowing me to think that maybe I could pursue a career in public speaking, and how exactly I’d go about doing it if I did. Allowing me to think I could found my own company. Perhaps even allow me to think that I could buy the house I wanted for myself and my children!  The important thing to recognise here is that I am not attempting to change a belief, in this case a very long held one, but purely to allow my mind to think afresh and to come up with more possibilities.  If you are told, intentionally or unintentionally, and for long enough that you are ‘not good enough’, ‘not intelligent’, ‘bad with figures’, then sooner or later that will become a deeply held recognition as a truth, albeit quite probably a false one.  It would be no more than a perception of reality and it would be the thought that held you back – not the truth.  So – freeing the mind to come up with new ideas and new ways of thinking can be incredibly powerful and, in some instances, life changing.

The use of incisive questions allows you to liberate your thinking, or, to put it another way, open new pathways in the brain, in a way that is often hard to achieve. Think how effective this might be, in the world of business.

Here’s an example of when something as simple as an incisive question opened up a floodgate of possibilities to a chief executive, who was also my client. Owner of a large, successful organisation, the only problem he faced was hiring and consistently keeping ‘the best people’, a key factor in ensuring ongoing success in the business. I asked him – ‘If you knew you could turn this organisation into a preferred employer, where people are desperate to come and work for you, what might you do differently from what you’re doing now?’ The answer was a pause and ‘Penny, I really don’t know!’

‘But, if you did know, what is the first step you might take?’

Well, he said he’d start by sharing his vision and passion with each division, individually and in groups – and then ………………..  the ideas started to pour out of him! After twenty minutes he stopped and said to me ‘where the hell did that come from?’ What had happened was that he had been thinking about what needed to be done for so long, and now assumed that he did not have the knowledge to move forwards. The pathways were so deeply entrenched in his brain that it needed a different type of question to unlock the creativity.  Having never considered he could provide the answer himself, it simply never happened. All I’d done was to remove the barrier with an incisive question!

Incisive questions are a brilliant way of removing barriers and freeing your thoughts so you can start endeavoring to do the impossible. Apply them to different situations in the workplace and at home, and think of the possibilities! As a cheeky aside listen for the amount of time your children say ‘I can’t’!  It rarely means I can’t but something quite different!  So how about trying ‘If you knew you could …. what is the first thing you would do to – complete tidying your room/do your homework before watching TV/help your Mum wash up before bedtime/ have your bath and still have time to read’ etc. etc.!!

If you’re looking to book an inspirational public speaker for an event or show, please contact Penny here. Penny, as the founder of The Living Leader, a provider of leadership courses that have been rolled out to tens of thousands of delegates all over the world, is an expert in leadership training and has worked with the likes of Sage, Centrica and Caterpillar. Click here for more info on how to change your business.

What is the most valuable asset of YOUR company?

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Recently I was at a speaking engagement in Austria with The Marketing Academy and, amongst others, there was a really fascinating and profoundly inspirational speaker – John M Neill, Chairman and CEO of Unipart.  I consider that one of the most important things he said out of the whole hour was when he pulled his talk together at the end saying “….. the most valuable asset of your company is the culture and spirit of your company ……”.

To me that is the absolute crux of leadership – what do I need to do to create an environment where people are valued, feel safe, able to think for themselves and listened to when they come up with suggestions for improvement.  They come to work bringing not just their mind and body but their whole heart as well – they care.

I have some clients who know and believe this absolutely passionately – they recognise that if they are to get the strategy through the organisation so that everyone is aligned, the very first thing that has to happen is to create the culture to enable this.  Without this the words are just rhetoric and no one truly believes it.  To work with a CEO who comes into a new company and starts this way and truly gets this shift in culture is a complete joy.  I can remember working with an MD in a division of a very large corporate and he knew the importance of this so this was one of his first things he wished to do after deciding on the strategy.  It was a fairly small division so only about a thousand people and we managed to get about 400 of the top people (starting with him and his team!) through a leadership programme aligned to culture change, in about 4 months.  When the CEO of ‘Best companies to work for’ interviewed people in that corporate he said that he could physically feel the difference when he walked into the building housing that division – it was palpable.  And guess which division came in as the highest performing?

Other companies sometimes struggle to ‘get’ this and when I listen to some of the conversations, even at senior levels, they talk about things that they want or need to do and then say things such as ‘yes, that would be really good but I don’t think the culture will support it’.  This amazes me as it almost seems that they see culture as something that is outside of them!  Ludicrous of course, as it is they that actually are the culture – if they don’t like it, then change it!

So – how can you go about changing culture as I make it sound very easy?  Actually, it is not difficult and it means having the behaviours very well embedded and it really does have to start at the very top.  That is where the culture begins – right from the CEO – and leadership behaviours have to be lived and breathed all the time.  A very simple example where it can so easily go wrong – imagine that someone a coupe of levels below you comes forward with a new and possibly radical idea to get rid of some of the bureaucracy. You listen intently – because you know that is one of the behaviours that you need to be demonstrating – and you then proceed to tell them what to do about it!!  One really good behaviour then invalidated by the follow-up.  Alternatively when they come up with a good idea you could forget to get back to them to tell them what the outcome of their suggestion is, worse yet you could reproduce it without giving credit for where the idea has come from.

There are many things that come together to define the culture of an organisation and time and again I hear people say that changing it – is difficult, takes too much time, can’t be done quickly etc. etc.  All of those statements I fundamentally disagree with and have been able to disprove them time and again.  If you can take a group of ten people from the top of a company and clearly demonstrate to them the impact of three things – how they think, understand responsibility at a far deeper level than they may ever have explored it before plus shown them the consequences of the way they can inadvertently communicate you can get lasting behaviour change.  The results from those behaviour changes can be truly extraordinary and when we first worked with that small division of the large corporate the culture changed totally in a few months and in that year employee engagement went up 16% – it didn’t just ‘feel’ different, the results followed and fast!

Let me quote John one more time – “the most valuable asset of your company is its culture and spirit”.  If you want to get the strategy successfully through your company and people truly living and breathing the values this is the most critical thing to focus on.

If there is anyone reading who wishes to understand how this can happen I am running one programme – and only one – next year.  Please do check my website – www.pennyferguson.com.  I would be more than delighted to see you there.

Management to Leadership – is it really necessary?

I read with interest the article in HR Magazine by John Adair suggesting that organisations need to become more leadership centered and I just could not agree more and, in working with our clients can truly prove the truth of this.  To become more successful I believe it to be critical and leaders need to be developed at every level – not just the top.

Why is that?  Well, let me first suggest a definition between the two that works very well for me.

“Outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level they are capable of – and it is very much about control.

Outstanding leaders inspire them to do it for themselves – and it is more about freedom.”

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This indicates that there are many extremely successful managers out there who have delivered great results, may have turned a division or a company around and considerably improved bottom line results.  It may be that the company had lost direction and needed someone strong and very capable to come in and do some things that in the short term were painful – restructure, remove some of the costs, which could include people, and drive people to perform differently.  Based on their own experience and track record of success they knew how to do it, what needed to be done to become more successful.  This, based on the definition above, is very much about ‘management’ as it is based on me and my ideas and pushing them through the organisation.  Great for this situation maybe!

However, to take it to the next stage it is almost certainly necessary to be very different as what is now needed is people to think for themselves – at every level.  To come up with ideas that could continue to improve performance.  Now it is leadership that is necessary so that each and every person is passionate about the company and always looking for ways to do even better.  Think of the people serving the customer, be they an engineer, in the call centre or a sales person – you want them to always be thinking ‘how can I go the extra mile?’  If they are used to being told what to do then they have been educated into not thinking for themselves so are likely to wait until someone tells them to do it differently or the processes and systems structure them in how to behave and they dare not step outside them.

So what, in very practical terms, needs to change to make this transition?  Very simply, the majority of the change needs to be in how we communicate.  Most of us want to be helpful and, when someone comes to us for advice about how to do something or what decision they should make we leap into helping by telling them our thoughts and ideas.  The message we have just sent, albeit inadvertently, is ‘you are not up to doing this without me’.  I am quite sure that this is not the message we wanted to send but regretfully that is what we have just done, all by being ‘helpful’.  I absolutely know that I learnt this the hard way because when bringing up my six children I did this all the time and did my very best to unknowingly educate them into not thinking for themselves – I was truly addicted to giving advice, albeit lovingly!  Our communicating style needs to change from ‘this is what I think’, to ‘what do you think?’

I truly believe that leadership is actually quite easy once we ‘get it’ – it is about doing some very simple things consistently.  It is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’, more about ‘listening’ than ‘telling’, more about ‘giving’ than ‘getting’ and is always about recognising that leadership is about changing me and not about changing others.

My DVD, ‘How to be successful in your new management position’ talks you through some of the main obstacles in between you and success. I talk with new managers about how to cast aside self doubt and blind panic, and gain confidence. In the DVD I also cover how organisations work, what to expect of them, and what they expect of you – as well as talking about your performance and how to achieve your own visions with your team. To find out more, read here: https://pennyferguson.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/how-to-be-successful-in-your-first-management-position-the-dvd/